Cosmological Dialogue Concerning God’s Existence

Picasso The Guitarist
Jane: Leibniz stated that “[w]hatever is not from something else is from itself, or from its own essence.”1 Would you agree with the axiom that everything that exists has an explanation of its existence either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause?

 John: Yes. Given the Principle of Sufficient Reason, I would agree with that axiom.

Jane: Would you also agree that if the cosmos has an explanation of its existence, then that explanation is in an external cause?

John: No. I side with Peter Atkins on this one. Are you familiar with his Cosmic Bootstrap?

Jane: Cosmic boostrap! NoI am not. Please, enlighten me with his view.

John: Atkins hold that “[s]pace-time generates its own dust in the process of its own self-assembly.”2 The cosmos caused itself.

Jane: How is that possible?

John: Well, just like the way Stephen Hawking stated in Laura Roberts’ 2010 article.

Jane: You mean: “Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the Universe exists, why we exist.”2

John: Yes! I agree with Hawking. The cosmos caused itself.

Jane: Is that not absurd, John. Think with me. If we say Picasso caused The Old Guitarist painting into existence, are we not assuming the existence of Picasso to explain the Old Guitarist painting?

John: Yes, I believe we are.

Jane:  Don’t you see, then, the absurdity in saying something like The Old Guitarist painting caused itself?

John: Mh! I see your point, Jane. You are saying that we will be assuming the existence of The Old Guitarist painting to explain the existence of The Old Guitarist painting, right?

Jane: Yes. If the cosmos caused itself, then the cosmos was already in existence to cause its own existence. That is absurd, John.

John: Well Jane, Hawking’s said, given a law such as gravity, it would cause itself.

Jane: I do not see how that rescues it for this absurdity, John. Do laws have causal power?

John: Clarify your question?

Jane: OkayConsider, for example, the law of composition. The total acceleration an object undergoes equals vector sum of all the contributions to its acceleration. Do you think the law of composition has any causal power?

John: No. But it is the law of gravity. Not the law of composition.

Jane: Okay!  Consider the law of gravity. An object located at a distance r from a system of mass M experiences a contribution to its acceleration a=GM/r2. Does such a law have any causal power?

John: Mh!

Jane: Is it not a statement of fact describing natural phenomenon that occurs when certain conditions are met?

John: I see, I see. It is absurd to hold that the cosmos created itself.

Jane: Good. So, if everything that exists has an explanation of its existence either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause, and we grant that the cosmos has an explanation for its existence, would you agree that the explanation of its existence is in an external cause?

John: Yes. Since I believe that it is most likely than not that the cosmos began to exist some billions years ago, then I do not have a choice than to agree with you, Jane.

Jane: Brilliant. I just finished reading a paper submitted on April 4th of 2014 by Dongshan Hem Dongfend Gao and Qing-yu Cai. They summarized what I think is becoming a consensus view in cosmology as follows: “With the lambda-cold dark matter (ΛCDM) model and all available observations (cosmic microwave background, abundance of light elements), it has been widely accepted that the universe was created in a big bang.”4

John: I had my doubts on this topic. But after I read Mithani’s and Vilenkin’s paper in 2012 arguing that the universe must have had a beginning, I am inclined to hold that it is most likely than not that the universe began to exist.

Jane: Okay than. Would you agree that if all space-time began to exist a finite time ago, then the external cause of the cosmos must have the characteristics of being non-physical, immaterial, and space-time-less (beyond space and time prior to the beginning of the cosmos)?

John:  You could say that.

Jane: John, such properties are of a being that theists understand to be of God.

John: I see. But then if everything that exists has an explanation of its existence, what is the explanation of God’s existence?

Jane: Theists would say God’s existence has an explanation of His existence in the necessity of His own nature.

John: Mh! I see. Unless I deny that the cosmos had a beginning, I cannot say the cosmos has an explanation of its existence in the necessity of its own nature.

Jane: No. If the cosmos began to exist, then it is a contingent being. Therefore you cannot explain it by the necessity of its own nature.

Those in doubt about any of Jane’s assumptions (e.g. the principle of sufficient reason & beginning of the universe) may take her main conclusion conditionally. Is Jane’s argument for existence of God as a space-timeless, immaterial and non-physical being persuasive? Would it change an atheist’s mind? No. I use Jane-like argument not to persuade my readers to change their beliefs, but to offer reasons why theists believe what they believe. I use such arguments not to persuade others but to offer justification for my belief in God.

 Footnotes:

[1] A VI, iv, 1769, trans. Loemker, 199

[2] Atkins 1994, 143

[3] Roberts, L. Stephen Hawking: God was not needed to create the UniverseTelegraph. Posted on telegraph.co.uk September 2, 2010, accessed September 3, 2014.

[4] arXiv:1404.1207

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23 thoughts on “Cosmological Dialogue Concerning God’s Existence

  1. I think there was more to Hawking’s argument than you gave credit for. My understanding is that what Hawking shows is that within this Universe, conditions can arise that result in the creation of a new Universe. And that furthermore, that Universe’s future, its opening sequence if you will, is our own Universe’s past. Something akin to a Kline bottle. Meaning that, although, yes, our Universe does have a beginning, and that, yes, that does mean there must be some antecedent, some set of conditions preceding it and giving rise to it, that antecedent need not be something other than or outside of the Universe itself. The Universe can be its own antecedent.

    Even if my understanding is incorrect in some way, there is a step in your argument that I think could use more attention. To conclude that Hawking’s argument is absurd with such little examination reflects insufficient investment in understanding what his argument was. Relativity and Quantum Mechanics both contain apparent absurdities that are not only counterintuitive but seem to defy logic, until they are studied in a bit more depth. If you have interest I’d love to recommend a book to you, one reverent explorer to another. Relativity Visualized, by Lewis Carroll Epstein. Although somewhat far afield of your normal reading list, it’s one I think you’d greatly enjoy, for its style and presentation of argument as well as for its ability to reveal unseen facets of beauty of our world.

    • Thank you Ken. You noted that: The universe began to exist & “The Universe can be its own antecedent.” The only way to accept these truth is by denying logic. It is a fair move 😉

      • It is only an apparent denial of logic. My book recommendation is meant to show what I mean by this.

        An example from the world of physics is a case where you and I are moving past each other. I measure the speed of light to be 299,792,458 meters per second relative to me; you measure light to be traveling at 299,792,458 meters per second relative to you; and yet we can clearly see that we are moving relative to each other. This would seem to be a logical contradiction. Our numbers literally do not add up.

        How this contradiction gets resolved, and its consequences–which have been tested, measured, and repeatedly confirmed, and for which the technologies and tools we rely on every day are adjusted–form the basis for the laws of Relativity. Relativity, as an explanation of what we discovered empirically, restores logical consistency to the world, but our intuition about how things work, based on everyday interactions with our environment, requires a pretty dramatic re-writing.

        Quantum Mechanics introduces a different set of apparent contradictions. As with Relativity there were a set of test results that seemed to defy logic, yet they were consistent and repeatable. And like Relativity they required a divergence from intuition to be made sense of.

        My reason for bringing this up here is two-fold. First, to invite you to study and enjoy, as I do, a beautiful facet of God’s creation. And second, to invite you as a theist and an articulate messenger and debater, to learn in more depth why a cosmologist such as Stephen Hawking might believe what he does.

        Respectfully,
        -Ken

  2. Would you agree that the smelly old child molester has an explanation of its existence either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause? Suppose, the smelly old child molester is a contingent being. Let’s beat it to death. Then it ceases to exist unless it does so by the necessity of its own nature. In which case, let’s beat it to death. Then. if it continues to exist, it is God the way its stupid acolytes have been claiming all along.
    There are many good reasons to believe in God but they are also constitute reasons to crack down on smelly old child molesters rather than carry on pretending they are holy in their own way.

  3. Well-presented.

    It seems to me that the difficulty with the argument is its assumption that material must come into existence as a result of a cause, but that the cause itself (in this case God) exists by necessity. Of course absolute necessity or aseity is one of the traditional theological attributes of God, but arguably using that as a solution to problem of how the universe came into being is a “god of the gaps” argument.

    I’m more persuaded by the Anthropic Principle. Certainly it cannot be said that all the fine-tuning of the universe that is necessary for life, exists by necessity. And it seems nearly impossible (literally) that those characteristics could have all independently arisen by chance. While not conclusive, it is a compelling argument for a Creator.

    And it’s arguably more in line with the Biblical narrative (for what that’s worth), which doesn’t seem to proceed from the classical notion of creation ex nihilo.

    As always I enjoy your fine, thoughtful posts.

    • Thank you Bill.

      It is not difficulty, for me, with Jane’s argument that its assumption, namely material(space-time) must come into existence as a result of a cause. We are rationally justified to hold that the effect (beginning of the cosmos) must have a cause or weaker an explanation for its coming into existence.

      I have heard the claim that these versions of cosmological arguments are “god-of-the-gap”. I have not, though, heard any justification for claiming this is so. The “god-of-the-gap” arguments are appeals to the ignorant gap of knowledge that god is put in. E.g. G: “We do not know p therefore god did it”.

      It is unwarranted to say Jane’s cosmological argument is of G type. The idea of God was deduced from the nature of the explanation of the cause of the cosmos. If the argument is valid and both of Jane’s premises are true, then the conclusion follows necessarily. There is no gap that needed to be filled. Thus, I do not follow how the claim of god-of-the-gap is warranted.

      Thank you for reading Bill and commenting. I love such constructive comments.

  4. Jane: Theists would say God’s existence has an explanation of His existence in the necessity of His own nature.

    John: Oh. So let’s skip God then and say that the universe has an explanation for its existence in the necessity of its own nature.

    Jane: Oh.. crud I didn’t think of that. Atheists are so smart!

      • “If the cosmos began to exist, then it is a contingent being. Therefore you cannot explain it by the necessity of its own nature.”

        You’ve just begged the question by conflating the two different meanings of contingent. (It’s begging the question because you can only equate these two meanings by assuming the very thing that you’re trying to prove!)

        Try thinking about it. In the first line, you’re defining contingent to mean that it began to exist. In the second line you’re defining contingent to mean that it depends on something else for its existence. But how do you know that these two things are the same thing?

          • Great. So how do you get from the universe having a beginning, to that it’s possible for it to not exist?

            There has never been a time in which the universe did not exist, after all. In this universe, the universe has never not-existed. So you cannot conclude that because this universe began to exist, it’s possible for it to not exist.

          • > Because if the universe began to exist, then there was a point it did not exist.

            A point in what? Because time is part of the universe.

            So there was clearly never a point in time in which the universe did not exist.

  5. Jane: Would you agree with the axiom that everything that exists has an explanation of its existence either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause?

    John: Where on earth are you getting this random assertion from? It sounds like you’re just trying to beg the question. Why couldn’t you could have something that simply doesn’t need an external cause? Or in your terms, something whose nature is sufficient for its existence? Why are you begging the very question that you’re trying to prove? You have absolutely no evidence to support this axiom.

    Jane: Oh, yes you’re right. My bad, sorry.

    John: No problem. Hey, are you free tonight?

    Jane: No sorry.

    John: Oh.. okay.

  6. Interesting mix of the Leibnizian and Kalam Cosmological Arguments. Thanks for sharing!

    That said, I would argue that the explanation of the cosmos’ existence is the necessity of its own nature, whether or not space-time has a past-finite boundary.

    • Thank you for such comment. That is a possibility. Russell held it. But with increasing evidence from cosmology it appears that this possibility is fading away. Every expanding space-time must have a starting point, following Vilenkin.

      But I think you are correct. Viewing cosmos as a necessary being, this argument fails.

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